Northwords – an Interactive Literary Documentary

Northwords, premiering at this week’s Planet in Focus Film Festival, is a cross-platform documentary that follows five of Canada’s leading authors as they explore the stunning and harsh terrain of Torngat Mountains National Park in Newfoundland.

Trailer courtesy of filmCAN.

The film, a FilmCAN production from the creators of the National Parks Project, was inspired by award-winning journalist and activist Shelagh Rogers, who had the idea of bringing a group of authors to northern Canada to see how their experiences would effect them as writers.

Saglek Bay inukshuk, Torngat Mountains National Park

zeeBigBang sat down with Northwords’ Director, Geoff Morrison, Producer/Writer Joel McConvey and one of the authors from the film, Alissa York to discuss their experiences in northern Canada and what they hope to achieve with the film.

“It was a great opportunity to work with Shelagh and a great group of authors and go up to a really, really amazing place and be able to witness what would happen to these people when they went up there and what they could come up with. Our inspiration in some ways came out of what we thought was going to come out of everyone else,” explained Morrison.

As part of the film, each of the five authors, Alissa York, Joseph Boyden, Noah Richler, Sarah Leavitt and Rabindranath Maharaj, were asked to complete a short story based on their experiences in the North and then share their stories with everyone, including the local Inuits who they met along their trip.

Author, Noah Richler’s first fish

“Shelagh chose very different authors. We all somehow got along beautifully and we all came up with different takes on the experience. There were so many things about the experience that required just saying ‘yes’ to what you were given to do and that was a big [challenge] for me. As a writer I tend to stay in my cave and work by myself before I show [anyone] anything. But one of the best experiences of my life was turning something over in a week and sharing it with everyone,” said York.

According to Morrison and McConvey, the film exposes the audience to the beautiful landscapes of the Torngat Mountains and gives people a better idea of life in the north and its impact on Canadian culture.

Northwords reveals the beautiful imagery of the northern Canada, while following the unique experiences of the five authors. McConvey said the filmmakers faced some challenges with the harsh weather conditions, though their biggest challenge was finding a market for the film.

Torngat Mountains fjord

“It was tough for us to find someone who would recognize Northwords as television with an audience, what with the landscape in Canadian TV right now being tricky. Everyone wants a particular tone and a particular kind of energy and we were really trying to capture something a little more genuine perhaps, more reflective of what the pacing of life is actually like up there [in the north]. It was a challenge to convince people that this was something everyone should see and wanted to see. Luckily we found a broadcaster with CBC,” explained McConvey.

Northwords also features an online interactive experience in the form of a multimedia eBook that is specifically designed for iPad and HTML5 supported browsers.

“The interactive portion is what we call an interactive literary documentary where it’s built from pieces of excerpts from the authors’ works, photographs, bonus audio and video content, that we cut together from footage that we didn’t use in the film; and other bits of text that link everything together. It’s really an exploration of what can be done with documentary [film] and how you can tell a story from different perspectives. We had the privilege of having the work that these wonderful authors have created, and were able to integrate these works in the story itself and use it to create a different parallel storyline to the more traditional documentary film,” continued McConvey.

Northwords premiers in Toronto at the Planet in Focus Film Festival on Thursday, October 11 at 7:15pm and will have its broadcast premier on CBC Documentary on October 25. The Northwords eBook is available for purchase online at House of Anansi Press.

(Photos courtesy of FilmCAN)

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